Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness Matters

“Buddha in Glory” by Rainer Marie Rilke

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

You will find the poet Rainer Maria Rilke showing up on mindfulness teaching poetry lists. Here is his poem, “Buddha in Glory”


Center of all centers, core of cores,

almond self-enclosed and growing sweet –

all this universe, to the furthest stars

and beyond them, is your flesh, your fruit.

 

Now you feel how nothing clings to you;

your vast shell reaches into endless space,

and there the rich, thick fluids rise and flow.

Illuminated in your infinite peace,

 

a billion stars go spinning through the night,

blazing high above your head.

But in you is the presence that

will be, when all the stars are dead


Rilke suggests that the Buddha, the “awakened one”; the thathagata, “the one who has gone thus” has accessed something cosmic, universal, and transcendent. What Rilke neglects to say is that the Buddha was nothing special. Of course, on the one hand, he was special. He was willing to forsake everything he had and had known in pursuit of the truth. He was a spiritual revolutionary and taught a radical new way of seeing the world. On the other hand, he was an ordinary man who practiced a methodology that he taught to others. Following the path the Buddha taught, anyone can make the same discoveries. That includes you and me.
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What is this awakening? Again, here, it’s something that is simultaneously commonplace and extraordinary. When we think of the Buddha’s accomplishment as “enlightenment” rather than the more accurate “awakening” it takes on more of this special sense–enlightenment as something that happens to you or a place that you get to. In Zen, the teaching is that we are already enlightened and if we are enlightened then there is nothing to do to get enlightened. We experience this enlightened nature when we get out of our own way as might happen during zazen.
The term enlightenment has a different connotation as reflected in this quote from Larry Darrel in the W. Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge:

Only my overwhelming sense of its reality. After all it was an experience of the same order as the mystics have had all over the world through all the centuries. It’s impossible to deny the fact of its occurrence; the only difficulty is to explain it. If I was for a moment one with the Absolute or if it was an inrush from the subconscious of an affinity with the universal spirit which is latent in all of us, I wouldn’t know”

This sounds like enlightenment as turning on a switch and suddenly seeing clearly what was obscured before. This sense of enlightenment sounds like it should be accompanied by fireworks or a parade. In the more ordinary sense of awakening, we move in and out of enlightenment all the time. Any time the stories stop, we have a taste of the absolute. And this can happen anywhere. I am reminded of Dr. Suess’s beloved story, Green Eggs and Ham.

I could not, would not, in a house.
Greenegg.gifI would not, could not, with a mouse.
I would not eat them with a fox.
I would not eat them in a box.
I would not eat them here or there.
I would not eat them anywhere.
I would not eat green eggs and ham.
I do not like them, Sam-I-am.

Just substitute in reverse fashion:

I could awaken in a house.
I could awaken with a mouse.
I could awaken with a fox.
I could awaken in a box.
I could awaken here or there.
I could awaken anywhere!


Metaphors for Mindfulness: Why do you think metaphor is such a powerful tool for clarifying and encouraging mindfulness?

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

Robert Frost warned, “Unless you
are at home in the metaphor, unless you have had your proper poetical education
in the metaphor, you are not safe anywhere.” And it’s not just poetic
metaphors; metaphors are everywhere in our language in our concepts and many of
these come from our physical bodies and the way our brain is organized.

e use metaphors to understand
something novel. There was a time when we did not have a word for being. To
understand this abstract concept and to create the verb “to be” we (or our
Sanskrit speaking ancestors) compared it to growing and breathing, 

To be comes from the Sanskrit bhu
-
to grow or to make grow

‘Am’ and ‘is’ evolved from the same root as
the Sanskrit asmi – to breathe

The late psychologist Julian Jayne
said, It is something of a lovely surprise that the irregular conjugation of
our most nondescript verb is thus a record of a time when man had no
independent word for ‘existence’ and could only say that something ‘grows’ or
that it ‘breathes.’”

Thumbnail image for Wild chickens revisions 3.jpg

Of course this is VERY interesting
because breathing is central to the practice of mindfulness and we can think
about mindfulness as a practice of being – shifting us from human doings to
human beings.

For mindfulness as an experiential
concept we can only understand it by referring to things we already know. The
mind, for, instance can only be understood with metaphors and is powerfully
shaped by them. Understanding the self is also relies on metaphor, and I would
go a step further and say that what we consider to be the self IS a metaphor.
That was the Buddha’s central message: the self is a metaphor.

Our brains handle the overwhelming
amounts of information and new information through the use of categories. So we
are always attempting to understand one thing that we are encountering with
another thing that we already know. We do this through categories. So if I see
a leaf or a chair that I’ve never seen before I can recognize them as such
because I understand this leaf or chair by comparison to all the other leaves
and chairs I’ve seen. This allows us to move through the world efficiently. We
have to be careful with this, however, because we can tend to lump distinctive
experiences together into the same categories. Ronald Regan is notorious for
saying if you’ve seen one Redwood tree you’ve seen them all. Mindfulness helps
us to appreciate the uniqueness of each experience.or more on metaphors for mindfulness, read my book, Wild Chickens and Petty Tyrants: 108 Metaphors for Mindfulness published by Wisdom in 2009. 

Mindfully Green: Can Buddhism Save the Planet?

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

Thich
Nhat Hanh warns, “If we continue to live as we have been living, consuming
without a thought of the future, destroying our forests and emitting greenhouse
gases, then devastating climate change in inevitable. Much of our ecosystem
will be destroyed. Seal levels will rise and coastal cities will be inundated,
forcing hundreds of millions of refugees from their homes, creating wars and
out breaks of infectious disease.”

According
to legend, just before the Buddha became awake, he touched the earth so the
earth could serve as witness to this momentous event. What would he think if he
touched the earth today?

Stephanie
Kazak teaches “a green practice path” in her book, 
Mindfully Green: A Personal and Spiritual
Guide to Whole Earth Living
. She
  suggests taking action on
the issues that are most concern for you. You can’t save the entire planet, so
pick one cause and give that your energy. And you’ll need your Buddhist
training to do this difficult work of trying to ameliorate the suffering on
this planet. She cautions, “this requires patience and equanimity in the
face of disturbing realities–a clear cut forest reduced to stumps, a once-lush
river deadened by chemical waste, a coral reef blasted by dynamite fishing. It
is not easy to base clear-eyed at these troubling results of human
activity.” Furthermore, “
The
Buddhist systems-thinker involved in environmental controversy would ask as
much about he the human actors and their attitudes as about the affected trees
and wildlife.” 

Mindfulness is integral to
establishing this courage. She goes on to say that mindfulness provides an
authenticity that can “provide a stable mental base from which to observe
the whole catastrophe of human impact.” The illusion of separation
contributes to this catastrophe, so, too, does culturally conditioned ideas
that look upon the environment as a resource for humans to exploit. The
Buddha’s concept of dependent origination can speak to environmental
challenges. Everything is interconnected; actions in one place have
ramifications for other places; something that affects one species will have an
impact on many other species. In environmental science this is known as systems
thinking. If you want to devote your energies to the environment you can become
an “ecosattva” a bodhisattva committed to end environmental
suffering. First do no harm, second do what you can to relieve suffering. It’s
bound to be a slow process and is part of what the Dalai Lama has called
“ethics for a new millennium.” Everyone must take responsibility for
the well-being of the planet. This requires both compassion and restraint.
Being mindfully green means to consider this question: “what is really
important now, both in my own life and the world?”

 

Mindfulness of Breath: The Buddha’s Path to Awakening (Part Three)

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

Another
distraction that might arise is feelings of impatience, restlessness, or
boredom. Typically, this happens when the mind projects itself into the future
or tries to make this practice into something other than this simple looking at
the breath. You can acknowledge these feelings, without buying into their
stories. They are concepts and hold no necessary power other than the power we invest in them. In response to impatience, restlessness, and boredom, and to take their power away, you can give
yourself permission to be with the breath, and return to the present without
needing to make this moment anything more than it actually it is. You can investigate whatever arises during practice with interest and gentle curiosity. 

BS07004.jpg

Come
back to this moment as it unfolds. You are learning about your mind and how it
works, the sensations, thoughts, feelings, and images that emerge, and how
there is a tendency to move away from the present moment. In response, try to
give yourself permission not to get frustrated or discouraged. Frustration or berating yourself for not being concentrated is just another story to come back from. Keep coming back
to the feelings of the breath. That’s the practice. And if you can do this in a matter of fact way, you’ll be moving into mindfulness. The goal here is to practice, to sit with yourself rather than produce a certain “outcome.” It’s the process that’s important and not the destination. There is no destination; it’s a journey to become intimate with your lived experience in this moment and then the next. 

Remember
that awareness of breathing can happen at any time, not just when you sit down
to meditate. Throughout the day, many times a day, you can try to remember
yourself in this way. You can touch the breath, bringing awareness to a few
cycles of the breath as you are hurrying through the day or coping with
something stressful. You can bring yourself into the now by giving your
attention to the breath. Try a 3-minute breathing space exercise by doing a mini-practice session. Come back to the formal practice described above on a regular basis as a
way to strengthen your awareness and your ability to remember to be mindful
throughout the rest of your experience.

When Siddhartha Gautama sat under the pipal tree working towards awakening he was doing breathing meditation. He kept bringing his attention back to his body and the experience of now. He vowed not to get up until he was fully awakened and became buddho

(“awake”). This process is explained in the Satipatthana Sutta or the “Discourse on the Awakening of Mindfulness” A beautiufl explanation of this sutta can be found in Larry Rosenberg’s Shambhala Classic: Breath By Breath: The Liberating Process of Insight Meditation. 


For more information and audio sample, visit my website Exquisite Mind.

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